Thursday, February 22, 2018

Lesson Revamps for High Agency Learning

Recently Eric Sheninger posted the following graphic as part of a blog post about taking a critical lens to instructional design:
I've been thinking about the above concepts on a regular basis as our teachers are going through the process of creating units in our learning management system, Canvas. I believe there are certain times that just lend themselves to reflection, revamping and reorganization such as:
  • When a lesson plan flops
  • When curriculum mapping is being updated
  • When a learning management system (LMS) is an option
  • When you have a vision for a lesson plan that could use a little ummph
  • When you start wondering if there is a better way to....(fill in the blank)
So what do the above high agency options look like?
  1. "Facilitate" learning - you were probably both taught from a "sage on the stage" model of learning and if you are my age you also were probably taught to teach that way as well.
    While there are definitely times that lectures work, high agency education moves the teacher from the giver of all knowledge to the facilitator of the learning happening in the classroom. In the age of digital learning, the teacher can have options for students to learn more on a topic- for instance: access to primary source documents or video conferencing with subject matter experts.
  2. Student-centered - Does the learning happen based on the teacher's actions, steps, words, timing? Or does the student have access and the ability to be in charge of parts or all of their learning? Do students have voice and choice in the things they are learning or sharing? Student-centered activities lead to engagement. 
  3. Learning anytime/anywhere - Most teachers balk at this concept. "I don't teach an online course!" but do your students have to be sitting in front of you for learning to happen? Are you utilizing tools like a learning management system that allow students to use their time well? If seat time was not an issue, could your students access you when they needed more details or direction but basically could move forward with learning even if a sub was there for weeks? What if they are sitting in your classroom? Are there ways you could utilize an LMS that would allow you to have more one-on-one planning, mapping, and teaching happening with EACH student (or small groups of students)?
  4. Personalized, differentiated - Are you meeting the needs of ALL your students? For hundreds of years educators have taught to the norm. Those that caught on quicker were bored out of their minds and those that caught on slower felt like a failure. Technology can allow students to have different outcome paths. In Canvas, our LMS at CCS, we have a math classroom that uses mastery paths. Students cannot move on until they are "ready" but they can move ahead at a faster rate as well. Personalization and differentiation is tricky in a traditional school structure but it can be possible and is definitely beneficial to ALL students. One of my favorite, easy to implement option for this is software that adapts to the student learning in the process. For instance, if a student doesn't do well on a math problem then an easier problem is given to allow for scaffolding that student back to the level of understanding needed. Also, algorithm based software that assigns the next "to do" objectives to students meet those students where they are and take them to their potential.
  5. Do to learn - Parents often question the time it takes for homework and have a hard time seeing the validity and purpose, and so do I. What is the purpose of "doing?" Or your students doing to learn or just going through the motions of doing? It is our job to spark learning and a desire to learn. Are your students good at following instructions and jumping through hoops (for example: do the odd problems 1-17) or our your students doing it to learn- are grades associated with the learning process? In other words, are your formative assessments given to formulate feedback in order to know what students know or is it another grade in the grade book because you need more grades? If students have the freedom to fail and learn from the process with feedback then they don't fear the process. Think about the freedom you have while playing a video game. Students don't get upset when they "lose a life" or have to start over, they click play and go again because they realize the way to learn how to do it is to keep doing it. Unlike the culture of school, there is no repercussions to getting it wrong. Can we as educators learn from this concept?
  6. Application focused - Look for ways to teach your curriculum authentically. Project based learning lends itself to giving students the concept of WHY.  Apply the learning to real life. For instance, in our lower school STEAM program when our fifth graders are learning about structure and function, I plan to connect the concept of their drinking straw made projects to a video of a local architect explaining who he is, what he does, and how what they are learning relates to his job. Application focus gives meaning and while it might be quite obvious to us what the application is, it might not be to a student. Share the why and make the learning applied when you can.
  7. Develop Thinking - Make learning more about the process than the end result. We tend to focus on a summative tests as our end result but the process of learning and learning how to learn is a beautiful thing. Be intentional in helping students get to the end result, not just being able to answer multiple choice questions correctly because they are a good memorizer. We are currently going through a whole school design thinking process in our lower school. To teach students how to critically look at challenges through the eyes of empathy, to then ideate those concepts, storyboard your process, and come to a conclusion or prototype can be a skill that has the ability to be applied to all learning processes. Teach your students how to think. 
  8. Integrating curriculum - Segmented curriculum often feels intimidating. By integrating curriculum into a project or problem to solve changes biases. Students that use to walk into math class saying "I'm not good at math" may feel less angst when it is integrated with a subject they do like. Integration focuses on relevance for students and directly correlates to the application focused discussion above. Integrating curriculum isn't always easy, especially in the middle and high school grades but when done well, there is an embedded connection that naturally happens that spurs the learner forward. Think about it, all day long a student goes from Subject A to Subject B, etc that have high level of learning taking place but no connection whatsoever...between each class they have 3-10 minutes to decompress and get ready for the next stand alone idea. What if their day was more fluid? Connected learning seems more manageable from the student perspective. 
  9. Active learning opportunities - "Give a Man a Fish, and You Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Man To Fish, and You Feed Him for a Lifetime." - Chinese Proverb. Take a look at Edgar Dale's Cone of Experience: 
    Look at your mode of instruction, how often is active learning happening with your students? How often could it happen with some adjustments? Active and interactive opportunities support all the above high agency learning concepts. It can get loud and messy but often the level of engagement in the learning process becomes organic and freeing for the learners.








Nothing mentioned above is meant to say "you're doing this wrong." It's more just a challenge to us all to look deeper at the way we teach and consider alternatives to the process. How can you get all your students involved in the learning? Not just the same 5 that always raise their hands. We default to what feels easiest, it's human nature. But what if we took a moment to be a learner in this school year and challenge ourselves with learning based on the above? What if we changed our perspective towards what works best for our learners instead of what works best for us? We might find that some of these ideas fail miserably for us, but even when we fail, we learn...remember the video game idea? 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

"And what about technology?"- The progression of an instructional technologist



I've hinted at this moment in another recent blog post but I just want to share what progression in technology integration looks like for me. A few years back I was holding teachers accountable for 2 technology enhanced projects a year in our lower school. Today, there is no checkbox accountability for usage because it has just seamlessly become part of who we are at Chattanooga Christian Lower School.

In the beginning it would be fair to say that there were times when I was leading conversations towards tech integration. I know some people might disagree with me but I do believe in the beginning that often has to happen in order to open mindsets. I co-taught with teachers as they introduced technology in their classrooms. I was the safety net for those that were uncomfortable.

Today, it has just become part of instructional consideration for our teachers. Is there an app I can use that supports math instruction? Is there a way I can digitally have students share their learning? Our lower school teachers have adapted and adopted technology in ways that intentionally support their classroom learning without me directing. Now, I often come up with suggestions on how technology can support certain ideas or I share some new tool that I think would bring value to the classrooms but I'm not standing around watching to make sure integration is happening- it is.

I'll be honest, I didn't realize when the shift happened. I tend to share my Tech Tip Tuesday ideas just to give teachers some fresh resources. I will always be seen as the techie but I also have been a part in helping our teachers understand project based learning and how STEAM education can support this learning. Which leads me to the following moment that felt like fireworks of success went off-

It was the first few inservice days back in school for our teachers in January and the lower school curriculum coordinator and myself were visiting each grade level to help the groups with their project based learning plans. We were sharing concepts, answering questions, giving ideas, etc. Half the day had gone by when a teacher looked at me and said, "and I guess you expect a technology component to these?" It was as if the world around me got quiet. It dawned on me that I had not mentioned technology all morning long as we were talking professional development and I was the technology coordinator! My answer was this quirky, less than confident sentence..."well, you guys are doing tech integration really well now and uh I would think that if you felt it would enhance this PBL you would use it, right?"

I remember walking out questioning myself. What was I doing? Was I truly doing my job if I wasn't expecting technology integration? And then it hit me...this is what it SHOULD look like. I'm not saying we have arrived. There will always be areas that need growth (for myself and for our school) but this moment has left me with a small sense of accomplishment. I won't linger here, I'll keep pushing forward in other areas, looking for ways to be innovative. BUT it's nice to know I've grown.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

When was the last time you learned something challenging, exciting and new?


I'm going to tell you a secret about me: I hate to fail- I don't do it with dignity. Because I hate to fail I often don't like to take chances either. As a child (birth to 18) I was fairly athletic and always loved to be active but place a new game in front of me or a concept I didn't know yet and I immediately became a wallflower. I would allow the fun to happen all around me while I watched because I was afraid I wouldn't be good at it. This is something that I have to be mindful about even today. I have to push myself out of this comfort zone and the older I get the more I find myself willing to fail, but it's still hard. My perfectionist and competitive tendencies sometimes overpower me.

In the past couple of weeks I've found myself truly pushed out of my comfort zone regarding learning. In one case circumstances caused the need for learning and in the other case passion to create caused it. I self taught myself the intricacies of 3D printing in the last couple of weeks due to a need my students had. I'll be honest, I haven't perfected this skill nor was I even 100% happy with the end results but I accomplished it. Next step: accomplish printing AND design.

The next thing I accomplished was creating my very first skill for an Amazon Echo. Alexa can now read my blog to all the millions of people interested (humor me) by adding the skill "All Things EduTechie Oriented" from the skill store. I was actually shook when I realized I had accomplished this task. My skill set was 100% lacking in trying this. The instructions often looked like greek to me. When I finished, just like a toddler that would run to mom and ask her to put their crayon artwork on the fridge, I started texting coworkers and family with the results! I'll be honest, I took the path of least resistance to create it. There are things about it that I wish worked differently, it isn't perfect. But I did it. 

I often like to think I'm a growth mindset kind of girl. I have no problem reading material that is contradictory to what I currently think and growing from it but it took these last couple of weeks to realize I do tend to shy away from truly learning the HOW TO of really new things. So as I look at what spurred me I also can't help but see correlations in ways we can spur our students as well:


  • Time. Both of these new skills took time. For one I actually put some things on hold and worked after school to get it done. For the other, the flu gave me the chance to just focus on it. We need time, uninterrupted time to think through things that are challenging. Adults and students need time to devote to learning and using that time intentionally is important for the learner to persevere.
  • Reason. Tell me they why. Before 2 weeks ago I didn't really even have a desire to do either of those tasks but now I'm pleased as punch that I have accomplished them. What happened to cause this? I had a WHY- whether intrinsically motivated or extrinsically motivated knowing why you are learning something gives you the guts to keep going when it gets rough.
  • Resources. To learn new things we need the access to the tools to get us through the learning goal. Whether it be the wide world web, an expert, or a 3D printer or Amazon Echo...you can't accomplish the learning if the right tools aren't available. 
  • Validation. This may sound vain but learners need validation. There was this moment when I accomplished the task of creating an Alexa Skill and someone ask "are you going to create it for Google Assistant as well?" I felt diminished in that moment. I said, "Wait a minute, can we just glow in the moment in the fact I did something I didn't think I could do?" How often do we push our students to the next thing after an accomplishment instead of truly celebrating the current accomplishment? For some of our students every math problem, essay, or summative assessment has that same sense of "Oh my goodness! Look what I just did!" as I felt this week. I want to be more mindful in celebrating growth in my students and not just seeing it as a check mark and herding them forward to the next thing. 
I love weeks when you learn something about yourself that you might actually even see as a flaw. I'm going to work harder in examining myself more frequently for things I might be shying away from due to fear. What I really learned from something that is challenging, exciting and new is that it feels marvelous (even if it isn't perfected) to accomplish that which you thought was hard to do. 

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Digital Course Design in a Nutshell- Eye on the prize!



As our upper school teachers start the process of using Canvas at our school, the tech department has started meeting with them to help them create their courses. Our CTO found a really great Canvas "how to" course in the Commons area of Canvas and we are having our teachers go through these modules and submit assignments throughout the process. The wonderful thing about this is that the process actually leads to the creation of their own courses at the same time. Learning that leads to usable end results!

This past week we started the overview of what Canvas looks like and some teachers chose to jump right in and start the Canvas Camp modules. As I have been reflecting on this week I am excited about the support for our teachers that is embedded in their school day. I am also thankful for the excitement many see in using this new platform.

Some of the questions that keep popping up in my mind in regards to our sessions include:

  • What does good digital design look like?
  • How does one accomplish the task at hand in a timely manner?
  • What should the interface look like from the student view?
  • How do we create patterns of efficiency for our teachers, students, and parents that don't  undermine the teacher's autonomy of making the class "their own."
As teachers move forward with creating their Canvas courses, this is a great time to reflect on what you are currently doing and adjust the lessons you might feel need more "uumph." I also think starting this process with some goals and processing steps in mind will be helpful as well. These things came to mind as I assessed teacher interaction this week:
  • Collect your resources FIRST. You know what you need to teach your units, put those resources all in one place so that you aren't spending all your time going back and forth looking for the next file. 
  • Be mindful of copyright laws. Using PDFs and third-party curriculum can be tricky for online course content. As a rule, if you are unsure a link that takes you to the curriculum outside of your module tends to be the safe bet. Some of our teachers have actually contacted third-party vendors to make sure they are using things the correct way. You might want to look into that. Lastly, as long as it is contained for your students and you haven't made your work public (allowed access to it through the Canvas commons, for example) you tend to be safe.
  • What's your timeframe? For our teachers, a timeframe has been placed upon them but if you are like me, it might be a good idea to break that down for yourself so that:
    • You aren't overwhelmed in May when that imposed timeframe is checked.
    • You can storyboard your goals to help you prioritize the things most important to you.
    • You've created the opportunities needed and have the ability to look deeper at the robustness of the LMS and how you might tap into it more
  • Check out your course mapping. This is a timely opportunity to make sure the objectives you have tagged in your mapping of your course are actually being taught and met. It's very easy to change part of your classroom goals over time based on new initiatives and feedback and forget to update the mapping. 
  • Create your learning objectives and outline a course level module. Make it clear what the expectations are for your students. As you start aligning the objectives with tasks, take a look at Bloom's taxonomy or a Depth of Knowledge (DOK) chart to make sure your objectives are measurable. Each module should probably have 3-5 objectives. Now is your chance to think out your process for teaching your curriculum and have lessons plans made that would allow a sub to step in with embedded direction while you are out with the flu or whatever! It's even possible that if you start the new year out explaining your Canvas class structure to your students, sub days will still be highly interactive learning days. 
  • Plan for interaction. Map your modules. You've checked your objective goals for the unit, now how will you get to them? You have a vocabulary to share, overarching ideas to get across, key concepts to tap into, and the ability to use formative and summative assessment. Which parts of what I am trying to accomplish would benefit from this platform? Which parts are expectations of use placed upon me? In Canvas, check out the Commons area on your toolbar. This can allow you to see how other people are using Canvas to create everything from an entire course to the pieces of a module. The Commons allows you to borrow ideas and pull them into your modules and make them your own as well. It's a wealth of help if for nothing more than to kickstart your brain when you are stuck or to see how others are teaching ideas.    The Canvas toolbar for your class gives you some immediate ideas! Do you want to tap into:
    • Discussions
    • Collaborations
    • Assignments
    • Quizzes
    • Conferences
    • Share files, pages, or Google Drive options?                  
  •  Get ready to assess. Push your boundaries on what best assessment might look like for the module at hand- perhaps it isn't true/false, multiple choice but maybe it is. Also, take this opportunity to decide what the purpose of your assessments are. Is it to see what the students learned, or is it to see what you and the student need to go over to make sure they know the information forward? Is this formative assessment or summative assessment? Is it for a grade, benchmark or both?  Would a rubric and a speed grader help you give better feedback to your students in a timely manner? Would voice comments help your student? When looking at assessment, look at opportunities for you as an educator to create efficiencies that would allow you more insight into the student learning and time to spend in relational interactions.                                
While you are not currently creating an "online course" you do have the ability to streamline the processes of education that can lead to benefits for both you and your students. Technology will not replace you but looking for ways to replace the tedious might help you to use your time both in and out of the classroom more effectively. 






  Parts of this post adapted from http://ctl.mesacc.edu/teaching/designing-an-online-course/